Hail to the chief, fail to the Commanders

Washington’s 2023 “Report Card” fails to make the grade as owner Dan Snyder looks to sell the team

When thinking of our nation’s capital, many will picture the city’s great monuments and historical landmarks: The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and the White House and Capitol, to name a few. However, football fans see one figure that serves as a dark spot in the D.C. area: the stats of their home team, the Washington Commanders.

Since 2019, the Commanders have fallen from regular NFC East contenders to earning the distinction of the worst team in the NFL as voted by the players in 2023. The downfall has hit every aspect of the franchise, including congressional investigations, IRS audits and numerous workplace culture allegations. With new rumors of owner Dan Snyder getting ready to sell the team, it’s only fitting to review the laughable timeline of failure in the Washington organization.

In 2020, the team elected to change brands from the “Washington Redskins,” a racial slur referring to Indigenous populations in the Americas, which the team used from 1933 to 2019. After little to no progress, the team would finally roll into 2020 with the least imaginative name in modern football history: The Washington Football Team (WFT). The WFT limped into the playoffs with a 7-9 record thanks to every other team in the NFC East suffering injuries but did so after operating a QB Carousel following Alex Smith’s gruesome 2018 leg injury.

In July 2020, the Washington Post published an article detailing the stories of over 40 women — all former employees of the Washington organization. These cheerleaders, office workers and staff reported stories of sexual harassment and discrimination by male players, colleagues and executives, including Snyder himself. The story spurred an investigation by Beth Wilkinson, a D.C. area lawyer, who discovered systemic problems within the organization.

Sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation were commonplace throughout the team, leading to a congressional hearing in 2022. During this hearing, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform reported that Snyder had given misleading information during his testimony and accused him of paying employees “hush money” to prevent women from coming forward with their stories. Along with other stories of the workplace investigation, the WFT made headlines for their stadium — in the worst way possible.

2021 was when the fissures began to open in Washington, both in the front office and from within the stadium itself. Reports began surfacing in March that team owner Dan Snyder had under-reported ticket sales to the NFL and the IRS, meaning he kept more money from ticket revenue than he would have otherwise.

Just a month later, in April, the House Oversight Committee alleged that Snyder had kept two separate ledgers since 2012, which he would use to under-report revenue to the NFL and IRS. In addition to allegations of bank fraud (where Snyder took out a $55 million “loan” without the knowledge of other shareholders), Snyder became the focal point of a massive workplace culture firestorm.

During the 2021 season, FedEx Field — the home of the Football Team — suffered three water leaks that fell directly onto fans during games. During a season-opening loss to the Chargers, fans were greeted by water pouring down from the level below, with some claiming it was sewage.

In addition to water leaks, the stadium itself began to fall apart, with a scary moment to end the year involving fans following a game against the Eagles. As Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts returned to the locker room, a railing gave way, sending several fans falling toward the second-year QB. Fans in the area reported that the staff on site didn’t care, with one reportedly shouting at the fallen fans to “Get off the field.”

Heading into the 2022-23 season, Washington finally settled on a name: The Washington Commanders. This was one of the three names selected by the team in the final round of selection, but it wasn’t without controversy. The name was the worst-kept secret of the year, with numerous leaks revealing the team’s name weeks before scheduled.

A news helicopter saw the “Commanders” sign outside of FedEx Field the day before the release, and the team forgot to blur out the Commanders’ name from a document that was aired on TV. A Nike employee also leaked the jerseys on Twitter the day before the planned release.

When the team was finally named the Washington Commanders, their Twitter slogan was “#TakeCommand.” However, this slogan was the same as the one used by the Alliance of American Football or AAF’s San Antonio Commanders less than two years earlier. According to Forbes, the Commanders are worth $5.6 billion, yet they couldn’t even secure an original slogan for their social media accounts.

In 2023, the NFL Players Association released “Report Cards” for all 32 teams in several categories. The Commanders finished dead last out of the entire league, with a dismal ranking of 31st, 32nd and 32nd for the Training Staff, Locker Room and Team Travel, respectively.

All of this came to a head in 2023, with rumors of new ownership on the horizon. However, fans noticed a strange clause in the contracts of 2023 Free Agent signings: They would not receive their signing bonuses until after May 12, meaning a new owner would likely have to pay the players out of pocket. This embarrassing attempt to pass on the bill to new ownership shows Snyder’s character (or lack thereof). From the outside, it seems surprising that a professional franchise could be so poor at such necessities. However, when looking at the last few years of ineptitude at the highest level, the report card only makes official what we already knew about the franchise’s legacy of failure.